Difficult tasks

My dad had a life insurance policy.  He paid the premium, every pay period.  I’m sure he paid more over time than the policy was worth.  Actually it’s the same policy I have.  I remember when he filled out the “beneficiaries” form, him saying 90% would go to my mom and 10% to me.  We joked about it.  At the time his death was probably 20 years away.  I never thought this day would actually come. A few months ago, my mom and I received letters saying we were his beneficiaries.  And we had to fill out a form and mail it back to cash the policy in.  My mom did it, and got her check.  I just couldn’t.  let the envelope sit, and sit, and sit.  Finally I opened it.  The letter began “we are sorry for your loss”–and somehow, curiously, that little touch of humanity made me feel so much better.  I filled the form out today.  I still have to mail it. It all made me very sad.  I still remember like yesterday us joking about the 90% and 10%.  I don’t want any money.  I just want to see my dad with his grandbabies. Yesterday was the third anniversary of my great-uncle’s death.  He lived to be 93 and met his great grandchildren.  My family’s WhatsApp group is blowing up with tributes, etc.  I wonder what it would have been like to have my dad until he was 93, until I was older myself. My boss’s dad died a couple of weeks ago.  She’s my age.  It really brought back a lot of bad memories.  He had a nice death though; he never suffered with dementia or indignities or the loss of independence, and it was over in an instant.  After seeing my dad I didn’t think a “good” death was possible.  I wish he had one, but I guess death is as random and often as unfair as life is.

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Canceling my dad’s cell phone

I finally pulled the plug and did it last weekend.

The Verizon customer service representative just kept giving me offers trying to get me to keep the line active, even after I’d explained that my father had passed and we simply did not need his phone line any more, for any reason. She kept telling me that she didn’t mean to be disrespectful, so it must be some tasteless, tacky company policy that the service reps just have to keep pushing.

It turned out her own stepfather had passed a few weeks ago. She seemed a lot older than me. I have a colleague in his sixties who said he had just come from visiting his parents in New York. I know I am hardly the only person in the world without a father, but sometimes I can’t help wondering why me.

And after seeing what I saw, I live with this dread that there is nothing standing between me and the same thing that befell my father. That I could get cancer tomorrow. It frightens me.

I don’t want to do this any more

I don’t really want to do this any more. I don’t want to see my father in this state. I don’t want to believe that something so unlikely could happen to us. I don’t want to accept that something so awful could happen so fast. I don’t want to accept that after all that chemo it is never going to get better and that it will almost certainly get worse. I don’t want to cart my dad to doctor after doctor in a wheelchair, worrying that he will fall when transferring from the chair. I don’t want to think of my dad as someone with brain damage. I don’t want to see him with a beard as until his cancer I had never in my life seen him anything but clean-shaven and put together. I don’t want to open my e-mail 20x a day and find no e-mail from him. I don’t want to remember all the medical blunders and mistakes that cost us two months. I don’t want to hear my mom say how we need to fight the disease with everything possible, thus prolonging the torture for all of us. I don’t want to research drugs and treatments. I don’t want to know more about this disease than our oncologist. I don’t want to call the onc and ask for a prognosis. I don’t want to worry that I will give my father my cold and kill him. I don’t want to lose him. I don’t want to see other grandparents walking down the street with their grandkids and know that if I’d just married earlier my dad would have had that too. I don’t want to hear other people complain about their parents. I don’t want to hear about a God whom I can only conclude either does not exist or is indifferent to the suffering of kind people who believe in him. I don’t want to see what said God has done to my father, who–unlike me–believed with all his heart. I don’t want to ride to doctor appointments in a special wheelchair van.

I don’t want to love a husband who changes the subject when I talk about my dad. I don’t want to accept that before too long this husband and my baby daughter will be my only family, so that my life will consist of two people I can’t talk to about anything and one whose welfare I am responsible for so that I cannot take a break to grieve. I don’t want to admit that a huge part of the problem is probably me. I don’t want to accept that if I get cancer at similar ages to my parents, my life is half over. I don’t want my life to end like my father’s. I don’t want to hear my husband say “you feel so alone because you don’t have siblings, like I do,” because I don’t have siblings, it isn’t my fault, and at this point in my life none are going to spontaneously materialize. I don’t want to think that now only my mom and me remember my childhood, and that someday there will only be me. I don’t want to Google “will we meet our loved ones in the afterlife?” knowing that most likely the answer is that death is going to sleep forever, and that after we go there is nothing left of us to care about questions like these.

I don’t want to remember my uncle’s e-mail after the earthquake that destroyed my family’s home in India–“don’t worry–we have not lost much, compared to others who have lost all.” I don’t want to remember how a few years after the earthquake, my uncle died abruptly in his 40s. I don’t want to think that now my father has a brain tumor, and that he and my uncle will never retire together in India the way my father used to talk about. I don’t want to think that now that the time has come to worry, neither my uncle nor my father is able to do so, as one is beyond worry and the other is no longer capable of it, and that we too now have lost all.

A question to ponder

Somebody just found this blog via a Google query on “should I go on vacation if my father has terminal cancer?”

My knee-jerk reaction was “Hell no. Stay with your dad.”

But I suppose there are arguments to the contrary. Technically, “terminal” cancer can mean your dad has years left. Does it really help anyone if you suffer along with him? In the end you, too, have a finite amount of time on this Earth, as do we all. You could be hit by a bus tomorrow. And you can spend today being miserable and denying yourself happiness, but that won’t change the fact that your dad has terminal cancer. Who knows–a vacation might be a nice break from the trauma.


Since my mom fell ill (coming up on two years now) I’ve stopped traveling, I’ve stopped exercising, I’ve stopped writing fiction and poetry, I’ve stopped going to restaurants, I’ve neglected my career, I’ve stopped maintaining my yard and let my lilies get eaten by deer. I figure if my parents can’t live life, then I don’t want to either.

But I have lost two years of my life to penance, and I’m not sure any longer that my approach is the right one.

Today I will do something to make myself happy.

I can wait and wait for the sun–but there is no guarantee it will come out again.

So maybe it doesn’t hurt to dance in the rain.

Every elderly person in the nursing home…

…was young once.

Once they were a small baby.  Then they were a child.  Then a teenager in love.

Perhaps once they got married, and felt jitters on their wedding day.

They bought a house.

They had children.

You see them as they are now; someone on a stretcher who cannot walk, maybe cannot communicate.  But that is a single point, on a life that is a line.

There was a whole lifetime that went before.  They are all of those people; the baby, the young man or woman, the bride or groom.

And we all will grow old, if we are lucky.  So we are them, too.

Eleanor Roosevelt said…

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

I agree.  My mom’s cancer prepared me to face my dad’s, which is much worse.  I had seen her suffer.  I was already used to the fact that good health could be hiding, or could turn into, advanced-stage illness in no time flat.  I was used to scanxiety.  I had lost friends in support groups who were much younger than my parents; I had been around end-stage patients in the infusion room; I had accepted that we all die, that life is random and unfair, that sometimes lingering disease precedes death–and that one day it will be my turn.  I had crossed off the most important items on my bucket list–I had married and given my parents a grandbaby.

Now that my dad has cancer, the road is a road I have already traveled.  It hasn’t been easy, but the bumps are more familiar, and it is all easier than it might have been.